michael nagle about large projects personal projects

parts and crafts electronics kit.

fall 2008

In watching many kids play with the Snap Circuits electronics sets, it seemed to me that virtually no children made it beyond 1 - 2 hours of exploration with the kit, despite the claims of 100, 300, 500 (!) possible projects.

My observation was that:

The Parts and Crafts kit was a prototype I made to try and address some of the issues I saw.

The first idea was to try and make the pieces as transparent as possible. Something about how the snap circuits pieces were made I felt added to the sense that the parts were somehow special. The large plastic body and special metal connectors I felt made it possible for a child to not understand that a Snap Circuits resistor was really just an ordinary resistor mounted on plastic with conductive connectors. So the P&C parts were made where the connections were done with alligator clips, and simple brads were used to clip onto. The mounting was on ordinary foamcore, laser-cut to look like the parts.

The first kit had all the parts needed to make a simple burglar alarm. There was a magnetic switch like the kind you find on windows, and the idea was to use a second switch (a key switch) to arm an alarm -- if the magnetic switch got separated, simulating a window opening, a buzzer would sound. I remember we had a relay you had to learn to use, and possibly you had to invert one of the signals. The guiding idea was to come up with challenges -- not just paint-by-numbers style exercises -- that showcased layers of logic deeper than just turning one element off or on so that ideally, as these patterns internalized, children could use them in their own creations.

I demoed it at the first Maker Faire in Austin, 2008.